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Monday, September 28, 2015

The Essence of Style

People who read this blog know well enough what a beer style is; it's the label on the bottle--"stout," "gose," "IPA"--that tells us what kind of beer we should expect to find inside. It's the thing we fight about when the Brewers Association releases its annual judging guidelines, the quality that helps us assess whether a beer has been well-brewed or not. But if you think more deeply about style, you will come to see that it is actually a fascinating story that comprises the origins and development of that style as inflected by national brewing tradition, cultural preferences, ingredients, and even things as seemingly unlikely as war, famine, and taxes. Other fermented beverages like cider and wine are reflections of place. Beer is a constructed beverage, more like food, and beer style is akin to the cuisines of the world: they reflect the people that brewed them.

If you went around to the countries famous for their brewing traditions and asked them to serve you a "dark beer," you'd get very different things in each country. In Dublin you'd get stout (natch). You might get a mild in England. In Belgium, they might serve you a very strong, dark ale. In the Czech Republic you'd get tmavé or černé, and in Germany you might receive a dunkel lager. If you told the story of any one of these beer styles, it would take you through all those elements I described above. Irish stouts, now 4% session beers, started out as strong, soured brown porters in London. How they migrated from one city to the other and became so radically transformed takes you through malting innovation, preference migration, the effect of taxes, and more.

In action.
I mention all of this, because it's the lead-in to a talk I've been giving at my book events for The Beer Bible. Karen MacNeil's precursor book The Wine Bible, was arranged around region, as befits a beverage dependent on terroir. My book was arranged around style, and in it you find several dozen fascinating stories about their slow development over the past five plus centuries. It makes sense for me to start at the place of style, which gives me the chance to tell some pretty entertaining stories. (Beer is chock full of entertaining stories.)

As you may know (sorry about all the social media promos), I'm in the middle of a national book tour, and I think you'd enjoy spending an hour and a half chatting beer if I happen to come through your town. (The Q&As have been fascinating, too.) I know I'm a wholly unreliable source on this, but I think we've been having quite a bit of fun at them. Beginning Saturday, I'm on the East Coast, so have a look and see if I'll be in your town.

Saturday October 3, Grey Lodge Pub, Philadelphia
4 - 5:30 pm. | Event details here

Sunday October 4, WORD Bookstore Jersey City, NJ
4 - 5:30 pm. | Event details here

Monday October 5, Sixpoint Brewery, Brooklyn
7-9 pm. | A ticketed event--buy tix here

Wednesday October 7, Sam Adams, Boston
6-8 pm. | Event details here

Thursday, October 8, Longfellow Books, Portland, ME
7 - 8:30 pm. | Event details here

Saturday, October 9, World Beer Festival, Durham, NC
Afternoon and evening events | Event details here


  1. Are you going to make it to Chicago?

  2. Yes, on Tuesday, October 20. I'll be at the Goose Island Taproom at 7pm.